Director, Global Workplace Operations | GitHub

Head of Workplace at Github, Lara Owen is responsible for ensuring their remote team scattered across the globe remain cohesive and productive from wherever they work.

GitHub is a development platform inspired by the way you work. From open source to business, you can host and review code, manage projects, and build software alongside millions of other developers.

GitHub has 751 employees worldwide and 78+ million projects hosted. 



Lara’s video greeting:

Lara K Owen on Running Remote Conference 2018

So I feel like this talk should come with an asterisk or a better remote or very least the premise.

I’m not here to brag, not here to preach.  I’m not here to sell you anything. I’m simply here to share my five years of experience.

Lara Owen on Running Remote 2018

How to build the best remote teams?

Github ten years of accumulated knowledge running remote teams and hope that it will help you build better remote teams.  If I had to put everything into one sentence. If I had to put everything into one slide on. How we do that.  It would be this. We have a people first ethos now. That doesn’t me an we don’t care about our products we do and it doesn’t mean.

How Githab build better remote team

Githab build better remote team

We give our employees everything they ask for we don’t it simply means. We focus on the why do people act think and speak the way they do.

Why did this remote team succeed?

Why did this remote team succeed?  Why did that remote to fail? We build our company and our teams we iterate onour policies and our projects always with understanding of an input from our employees. Instead of building systems based on the what and the how which is that what.

I see a lot of companies doand then they have to force employees to work in those systems. Now Github is lucky. Bringing people together to workbetter. Is it our DNA. Our whole product is based on bringing developers togetherto write better code and ship amazing projects.

We’ve been pretty success full at it. We have over 27 million users worldwide. We’re in a plethora of different industries from education and retail to Course software development.

In addition we’ve gotten to be part of some really cool things like block chain technology with several notable crypto currencies source code being hosted on our site. It’s pretty awe some.

What are we doing to build better teams?

If having two people first those is our why then these are our what’s. What are we doing to build better teams?  I am not only a human selfie stick and professional puppy Cutler. I am also the directorof global workplace operations at Github. My job is to focus on environment specifically.

How do I create environments where our employees could do their best work? How do I create environments for 800 people that work in 20 different countries?  Third of which work in offices and the two other two-thirds work remote.

Now quick show of hands how many people here use offices or co-working spaces?  So, quite a few. So a lot of people who use offices co-working spaces assume that. Remote workers can just work anywhere. So they don’t designthese spaces. With our remote workers in mind. At Github we have this is a pictureof our San Francisco office and like many offices.

better teams in different country

Open office floor for remote employees

We have an open office floor plan but after doing a lot of programming and serving and talking to our remote employees. We realized this was a pretty big shift when they came to the office coming from a privacy oftheir home office into this. So as we grew we built out a lot of cool break out spaces. we even went so far as to buildan entire library so our employees couldhave head down work in addition we builtone of my favorite rooms

It’s our NAP room for many of our international employees and like many of you. Who are dealing with jetlag right now. Having a place to rest is awesome a big glass of water shot of espresso 30 minutes and one of these bad boys and you can wake up refreshed and ready to get on with your day. Being remote you may only come to San Francisco. May be once twice a year. So having the energyand being able to put your best selfforward to work with your team in personwas super important to us.

The company must provide flexibility and autonomy for their remote employees.

The other part of my job is to build experiences that optimize for flexibility and autonomy and this. I really focus on our co-located employees we give our remote employees a ton offlexibility and autonomy but we don’t always offer our office workers the same.

So at Github we did some silly things. I often get asked. I don’t have the monitor but I often get asked. Why we have offices at all? In the first place when remote work is so fantastic and that answer is flexibility in autonomy.

We’re talk to about our cafe we built out. We also offered our employees. They don’t even have to come into the office and we give them lots of flexibility metonymy.

autonomy for remote employees

The next topic.

The value of emotional intelligence for remote workers

I’m going to talk on is emotional intelligence. This is one of the biggest factors on building a successful remote team. Now emotional intelligence breaks down into four area sself-awareness being able to identify. Your own emotions empathy being able tounderstand other people’s point of viewself-regulation being able to convey your emotions in a positive experience. So being able to say. I’m frustrated instead of an grily throwing a chair out the window and social skills be in gable to communicate in a professional and productive. Manner now emotion nalintelligence has been shown to be somuch more effective than technical skills. On identifying who will be asuccessful team or not and one of the best ways. Github is found to build successful teams is to hire them and ask better questions in your interview process. Github is really lucky. We have an amazing recruiting team. That has spent a ton of time tweaking and iterating on these questions and one of my favorite questions that they ask is this. What are the challenges of working remote?  How would you address the mind? This is so much better than the normal question.

I think a lot of us ask which is “Have you worked remote?” and that’s a simple yes-or-no question. That doesn’t give you a ton of information. In fact the internet is littered with examples of people who have tried things and absolutely failed.

emotional intelligence for remote workers

Past experience doesn’t necessarily dictate future success by being able to identify the challenges and there are a few of remote work. People can show that they’re self-aware They also get to communicate and show that they’re a problem solver. So by asking one simple question you Can get a lot more information than have you worked remote?

The other thing we do at Github and you may not be hiring you may want to work on the teams.  You have is to build a common language around EQ.  Again we have an amazing learning and development team who introduced me to this strengths deployment index or SDI.

Training and essentially what you do is you get your team together and you takea quick survey and once you taking the survey come back together. You get placed on this try and go on a dot and the dot is where you land on every day to day situations.  Whether you’re a people focused person a process focus person or performance or decision making person and there’s no wrong way or no wrong place to end up.

On this triangle it’s simply. The way you think the arrow is what happens when you’re faced with a problem or a critical situation. How much you change. So me I end up pretty much in the middle. But when faced with the problem. I go into performance.  I go red and my team now knows.

Remote Command Communication

This about me so they can say:”Hey Laura. We want more time to think about this problem. We see you’re going red. We want to come up with the right solution not the quickest answer. I can say cool all right.  Let’s do that on the other side of that.

I have employees that are people focused and when she gets in a critical situation. She stays there so she’s had to learn to vocalize.  When she needs more time to think or when she needs to step away and by giving everybody that common language we’veraised the baseline of our emotional intelligence. On our team and lowered  interpersonal conflict which has helped our team focus on the problems at hand snow. If emotional intelligence is one of the best ways to build a better remote team than bad remote management is a quickest way to destroy it now.

I’m not goanna get to deep into remote management. Because a lot of Ramanujan depends on who you are as a manager. What your manager skill setis who your team is what they need. But I’m going to talk about two important things that we focused on Github now.

What problems worry remote workers?

Three out of four people don’t like their managers and 65% would rather take a new manager over a pay raise additional 50% of people who don’t like their manager or don’t feel valued by their manager will leave in the next year. So it is costly to have bad managers. So we acket hub try to celebrate differences and what I mean by this is.

I see often times remote managers hire people exactly like them selves.  They think I’m a good person. I’m a successful person. If I hire people who are exactly like me they will also be good and success full makes sense but what ends up happenings.

worry remote workers

We end up authoring people who look or act or speak different than us. We make decisions based on a name qualities like. They went to a rival college. They didn’t go to college. They have red hair. Hiring a diverse team is crucial to your business.

We form a diverse team

Diverse teams out perform make better business decisions 21% more. Than they’re homogeneous co-located counterparts. They also make more money who doesn’t want to make more money. So I’m goanna give you my team as an example of me and as an example.

I’m a rope manager. I built my team from two people co-located to seven in three different countries. I’ve got some good skills, some good strengths.  I’m flexible and equitable. For example if I asked my team to get up early. You best believe I will be up earlier and I will stay up later for them. But I’m also just used to asynchronous communication.

So sometimes if things are spoken I forget them in addition. I’m also terrified of spider snow. If I had my entirety and I hired them to look and act exactly like me and we put all of us in a room with aspider. We’d kill each other. We’ve burned down that room.

So instead I hired abunch of people with a bunch of different skills. Hopefully if we were all stuff in a room together somebody would be like I’m not afraid of spiders. I can pick that up.  I’ll take that outside for you now spiders are nota huge epidemic in remote work. They’ve not heard of them being a problem but you get my drafts.

  Workers with different skills work more efficiently


If you hire people with the same skill set you will eventually come along a problem where you all have the same weaknesses. One of the things we’ve done at Github is what’s your superpower is why partner sand?

I believe this deck is like $15 online. It’s super cheap but essentially you go through this deck. Everybody picks out their superpower and if you have a homogeneous team you’ll be able to identify where your weakness is.

If you have a diverse team you can talkand share about what everybody brings to the table the other recommendation for remote managers is to get positive. Now Github of course uses our internal tool to communicate and be productive. There are also numerous ways to communicate another.

Quick show of hands how many people use Skype. Sorry about the loss last presentation. Keep your hand raised if you have channels dedicated for fun good job through those who kept their hands up. So Github makes a point of creating channels. That don’t have anything to do with work.


Awareness of the experience of positive interaction for remote teams


We have financial personal finance channel. We have world cup channel. We also have dot-com even though the octave cat is our mascot. We have a lot of people who love their furry friends and we do this because of Pavlov’s response which is essentially are sponse and stimulus feedback loop.

For those of you that may not know what Pavlov’s response is I’ll give you an example. If I walked up to your desk every day rang a bell and gave you a delicious piece of chocolate cake you’d saliv ate You’d be excited sweet. If I did it the next day rang the bell gave you a piece of chocolate cake. The next day rang a bell and gave you a piece of chocolate cake eventually.

I could just ring a belland you would expect a piece ofchocolate cake now in remote management this happens similarly but it can happenin a positive or negative way.  I try to focus on the positive by once a week reaching out to my employees about something silly and ridiculous like scratch and sniff stamps.

positive interaction for remote teams

I do this because it’s too easy to create a negative feedback loop.   If your remote manager you get fewer interactions with your employees. So if the only time you’re interacting is when you need to give negative feedback your one-on-one sand meetings.

Your remote employees will start associating you negatively so byinjecting a little fun you can break that feedback loop another way we’ve done this at Github is our customer success team. When they were growing a few years ago very quickly they found that.

We’re having a lot of inter personal conflict as they grew and our head of the department at the time decided.  I got try something and he called it water cooler so essentially got every where together once a week.

Few keywords about sense of belonging and Maslow’s  hierarchy of needs

They varied in times and dates because of different time zones and they got to gather and they talked they talked about their weekend they talked about their kids they talked to patients they essentially talked about anything. But work and as I got to know each otheras they got to know each other as people those conflicts decreased and it was actually.

So such a success with that team that other teams have adopted it. We now have happy hour and coffee time we also use a ton of emoj is. I know a lot of people use these in their personal lives but we use them at work. We love them not only does it bringa little levity to the conversation.

sense of belonging for teams

But it can also help teams who don’t use who don’t have the same first language to bring an emotional context to the written work now last. But not least I want to talk about a sense of belonging. This is Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and when employeeshave the basics air shelter food water safety. But before they can come become their best selves become the mostproductive members of their teams they need to feel like they belong.

Remote employees feel less like they belong than their co-located counter parts so what do we dowell we have to be very thoughtful abouthow we make sure our remote employeesfeel welcome when I started Github my first day on the job they handed me a laptop and said good luck. I had never used Gthub ever.

Don’t tell my boss but I spent the next few months dealing with impostor syndrome and upon staresyndrome is simply that you think. Everybody around you knows so much more than you do. I didn’t ask critical questions.

I didn’t give any feedback because I thought every body was smarter than me and infact I can joke about it now. But I spent a lot of time pretty worried. I was gonna get fired just doesn’t make for great teams. So luckily or unluckily.


Forming a sense of preference for working remotely


I was not the only one having this experience. We realized that and hired some one to do our on boarding. Now every two weeks we bring a new hire group into San Francisco to work. We bring their managers in as well and for the first two days.

We do an intensive boot camp. They learn about everything from the company culture they talk to our executive teams. They get their laptops set up and then for the next week and a half. They work directly with their managers many of whom they won’t see again for a couple months.

But also they get to work in San Francisco with 200 other people who have gone through thisexperience and they get to know them sobefore we send them back out into the world. They have a sense of what Githubis and how they belong in that system the other thing. We do is the buddy system new hires get a new hire buddy now. This is not their manager and we do this because a lot of people are afraid to ask their new manager a stupid question.

We give them some body in their peer group. We allow them to share information. So the new hire has some body. They can ask all kinds of questions too with out fear of being embarrassed and their buddy. Who’s usually some body with some institutional knowledge gets to share that and feel like they belong they get warm fuzziest.

sense of preference for working remotel

But if warm fuzziest aren’t enough for you there are statistics and this is why it’s so important for people to feel like. They belong people more prep aremore productive they’re even 70% safer.


I don’t know how that one works but that’s an interesting fact and before. I end this talk I’d like to just say that none of these what’s operate in a silo building better environments can build a better sense of belonging increasing.

Think about what your employees need

Your emotional intelligence can have an impact on your remote management. So I hope you all took a little bit away from this talk. I hope at lunch today you’ll talk about how you’re focused any our people and when you go back to your companies. You’ll talk about what your why’s are and what your employees need. I really hope that we continue this discussion and that next year one of you is up here sharing with all of us how to build the bestest most ultimate remote teams.